Norman R. Augustine was born on July 27, 1935, in Denver, Colorado. An only child, he grew up just about on the prairie and loved spending time in the nearby mountains. His father fought in World War I, and Augustine remembers growing up during World War II—hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor, participating in air raid drills, and celebrating the end of the war with VJ Day. Augustine’s family valued education, and he enjoyed his high school classes, especially math and physics. After some targeted encouragement from Justin W. Brierly, the school’s self-appointed college guidance counselor, Augustine applied to Princeton University and was accepted. He originally planned to major in geological engineering but switched to aeronautical engineering after a drunken student he was trying to save from falling off a train told him aeronautical engineering was the future. Princeton focused on fundamentals and theory in aeronautical engineering, and because there were only nine aeronautical engineering students in the class, Augustine said it was like “private tutoring.” As part of his curriculum, he participated in flight testing and worked as a research assistant one year. Upon recommendation of the faculty, Augustine decided to pursue a master’s degree and stayed at Princeton because he had a nice fellowship. He wrote his graduate thesis on the dynamics and aerodynamics of a vectored slipstream aircraft with a double-slotted flap and built his own models, having learned woodworking from his grandfather. Upon graduation, Augustine took a position at Douglas Aircraft where he started first in a research group and then moved to development projects, working primarily on the Nike Zeus. He talks about transitioning to management, a missile launch that went wrong, and the early types of computers, including humans who computed.
After seven years of working at Douglas, the company’s new CEO decided to cut pay, so Augustine looked for other opportunities and accepted a position in the Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E) to learn more about what it took to write a good proposal—although he actually did not spend any time evaluating proposals in his new role. He talks about meeting and marrying his wife, adjusting to life in Washington, DC, and working in the Office of the DDR&E. He also mentions what it was like to work at the Pentagon during the Vietnam War and discusses spending a brief time in Vietnam as a civilian. After five years of government work, Augustine was ready to return to industry and accepted a position at LTV Corporation in Dallas, Texas. He discusses transitioning to life in Texas and working in management and compares working in government and working in industry. After three years at LTV, Augustine accepted a position back at the Pentagon as Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Development. He talks about the confirmation hearing, life working in the Pentagon, and receiving promotions. After Gerald R. Ford’s (1913-2006) term was up, however, he planned to return again to industry and accepted a job at Martin Marietta. Augustine discusses Bendix’s hostile takeover attempt of Martin Marietta, becoming CEO, and the Challenger disaster and the fall of the Berlin Wall. After the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the government called defense companies together for a “Last Supper” meeting to discuss the need for defense companies to merge and consolidate, which led to Martin Marietta transitioning to Lockheed Martin.
Augustine describes his work on government committees, including being appointed by George H. W. Bush (1924-2018) to oversee a committee focused on the space program, his involvement with the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), the goals and structure of PCAST, and the role science and technology should play in government. He concludes by comparing the Defense Science Board and PCAST, talking about buying the first share of Lockheed Martin stock, and noting his gratitude to civil servants.
This interview was conducted remotely via Zoom.
Kenneth M. Evans is a scholar in science and technology policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. He received his BS in physics from the University of Virginia and his MS and PhD in applied physics from Rice University. His research focuses on the history and organization of the US federal science advisory and policymaking system, with an emphasis on the role of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
David J. Caruso earned a BA in the history of science, medicine, and technology from Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell University in 2008. Caruso is the director of the Center for Oral History at the Science History Institute, a former president of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region (2012-2019), and served as co-editor for the Oral History Review from 2018-2023. In addition to overseeing all oral history research at the Science History Institute, he also holds several, in-depth oral history training workshops each year, consults on various oral history projects, and is adjunct faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching courses on the history of military medicine and technology and on oral history.
Kirstin R. W. Matthews is a fellow in science and technology policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and a lecturer in the Department of BioSciences at Rice University. Matthews manages the activities of the Baker Institute Science and Technology Policy Program, and the Center for Health and Biosciences’ Biomedical Research Program. Her research focuses on ethical and policy issues at the intersection between traditional biomedical research and public policy. Specifically, she focuses on regulation and ethical issues associated with emerging biotechnology, including vaccines, stem cells and genomic medicine. Matthews also leads a project to review scientific advice in and to the federal government, including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Matthews has a BA in biochemistry from The University of Texas at Austin and a PhD in molecular biology from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
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